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The Aberdeen Doctors
Chapter VII - Union in our Day


When one compares the basis proposed for union in the seventeenth century with that which is suggested in our day, the problem presented to our fathers would seem to have been much simpler. The question which they had to settle was one of doctrine. Were an agreement come to by the different Churches on the subject of creed, reconciliation, it was thought, would speedily follow. The problem has, however, become complicated in the course of centuries, and fresh points of difference have sprung up. In addition to the difficulty of creed, we have to find reconciliation on such topics as Church government, worship, ceremonies, and the relation of Church and State. In fact, some of these are proving quite as troublesome as the question of creed ; in any case they are bulking more in the public mind, and this may be a sign not so much of agreement as of indifference; or it may point to a basis of union which transcends mere intellectual assent to particular doctrines. If so, it must be accepted as a hopeful omen, for it indicates a higher and truer conception of religion, and is a tribute to the position of the Aberdeen Doctors, who looked for concord through faith in the essentials of Christianity—to a unity of spirit, in short, rather than to a hard and fast uniformity, as the result of an agreement of opinion on doctrines that are neither fundamental nor essential to salvation.

And one is more assured of this when it is noted that the movement in our day on the subject of Christian doctrine is on the lines laid down by the Aberdeen Doctors. Their position of course was influenced, partly by the desire for union and partly by the conviction that what they called the superstructure reared by the Churches on the foundation of primitive Christian belief ought to be regarded with easy tolerance. It must be admitted that the movement in our day is similarly influenced. Certain of the Churches have passed Declaratory Acts, explaining the sense in which they accept particular doctrines, and the Church of Scotland, unable, or unwilling, to free itself absolutely from the Westminster Confession of Faith has received liberty to frame a new formula of subscription, and it is very significant that the one approved of at the last General Assembly—1909—follows the lead of the Aberdeen Doctors. A belief in the fundamental doctrines of Christianity is practically all that is to be demanded of the ministers of the Church.

John Durie and those who co-operated with him failed in their object; they could not get the two great Communions that they wished to unite to agree on the question of doctrine. The first Apostle of Union, as Durie may well be called, showed a true instinct in selecting the Sacrament of the Lord's Supper as that on which differences should first be settled. Not only was it a doctrine on which the two Churches chiefly, and even violently, disagreed, but it was the one which of all others ought to be the bond of union. In no other act of worship can Christian fellowship be more clearly seen than in the common feast, in the holy service of the Sacrament of the Lord's Supper. Here, if anywhere, surely, all differences should vanish, and the spirit of unity and peace between the different Churches of Christendom prevail. But one has only to glance at the letter which Durie's appeal elicited from the Aberdeen Doctors to see that this great act of Christian worship, in which the element of a common faith ought to unite the members, was lowered into a dispute about innumerable doctrines in relation to it, about which an agreement of opinion could not possibly be found. The Doctors tried to point this out, as best they could, and would have lifted the whole matter into the higher region of a common faith. Tolerance was their great watchword ; they knew that salvation did not depend upon a true opinion, but upon a spiritual apprehension of the truth involved. To this higher region they would invite those who find it impossible to come to an intellectual agreement on many points of doctrine, and their own practice, particularly that of Dr. John Forbes, proved that it was not a height which was unattainable. They would not make differences of opinion a cause for schism, or for the breaking up of the National Church; they agreed with those who held that " community of religious life is all the more necessary, because unity of religious opinion is impossible. They solved the religious problem, therefore, not by giving it up, and saying, since men cannot agree about religion let them separate, and each party keep its own principles, and set up its own worship, but by pushing the problem to its legitimate conclusion, and drawing out the essential distinction between dogma and religion." 

The soundness of their position is further seen when the question is considered : Is it possible, even for the sake of union, among members of the Christian Church, as well as among the Churches themselves, practically to wipe out nineteen centuries of theological thought and progress ? Is there not such a thing as a development of Christian doctrine ? Does not the theory of the Church itself imply that the spirit of God has been working in it during the long period from the apostles' time to ours, and leading it into the path of progress ? Growth in belief, as in grace, in the Church, as in the individual, is a truth which is generally accepted in our day. How then, it may be asked, can the Churches, even in the interests of ecclesiastical peace, stultify their own spiritual vitality and deny their theological development ? By doing so they would be committing an ecclesiastical felo de se} and cutting themselves adrift from the modern world.

Even supposing they agreed upon the Apostles' Creed, or some such primitive document, no one could contend that the Churches of our day hold the doctrines therein stated in the same sense as their original framers. Even the articles of belief that are found in the New Testament are not accepted by us in exactly the same way as they were by the disciples and the apostles. It might be possible to single out a certain number of doctrines and call them fundamental, but it would not for a moment be affirmed that the interpretation put upon them by the primitive Church is the same as that imposed upon them by us. Indeed, the writings of Dr. William Forbes and the views of the Aberdeen Doctors themselves, on such a subject as the Lord's Supper, show the progress that had been made in theological thought up to their day. Bishop William Forbes' book is an interesting case in point. We have only to consider the way in which he reads his own thoughts into such doctrines as Purgatory, and Praying for the Dead, to see the difference of his interpretation, not only from that of the Roman Church, but of the Protestant Church as well; and it would be impossible to imagine that the Early Church held the views which he promulgated and defended. It must be cordially admitted that the way in which he reads into them a wider and deeper meaning, and one which even those who reject the doctrines themselves cannot help admiring, is very convincing; but this only goes to prove that, however plausible it may be to look for a basis of union in the Confessions of the New Testament or any of the earliest creeds, it is impossible for us to view their teaching in the light in which it was first accepted. We are therefore driven back to the position of the Aberdeen Doctors, who looked for union, not in theological opinion or dogma, but in faith in a personal Redeemer. Christian theology is a development from such a simple faith, but it is not essential to Christian communion. It is often the cause of a narrow sectarianism and bitter dissent. In the larger and purer region of personal faith can true Catholicity alone be found.

A common faith, therefore, rather than a common creed, was the ideal that they kept before them, and it is also the ideal that the Churches which are considering the question of union should cherish. It does not, of course, follow that their distinctive testimonies should be thrown over. The historical documents which mark the stages in their theological growth could be preserved, but the spirit in which they should be interpreted ought to be the one that animated the Aberdeen Doctors. Nothing, accordingly, would be lost. Comprehension and not compromise should be the watchword.

There would, we are told, be little difficulty on the question of doctrine on the part of the Presbyterian and Episcopalian Churches, between whom a union is being talked of in these days.1 This movement has, indeed, been in the air for many years, and it has received a special impetus from the conferences that have been proceeding regarding it, in Australia. Its centre hitherto has been Scotland, where so many religious and ecclesiastical questions have been fought out, and it has come back to that country again, chiefly through the finding of the recent Lambeth Conference on the subject. It must be admitted that the chief movers in the matter hitherto have been the Episcopalians, but within recent years a party, not very large, but active, has grown up in the Church of Scotland, that favours the idea. But in the meantime the vast bulk of Presbyterian opinion is indifferent if not hostile. Presbyterianism has worked well in Scotland. It has, so to speak, become established, and very good reasons would have to be shown why the Scottish Church should disown it.

The Scottish Church, however, has an open mind on the subject. It believes, for one thing, that its system of government is Scriptural; it even goes the length of maintaining that it is the one which first commended itself to the Apostolic and Early Church, and that Episcopacy was a later development. It believes in its orders, in the inclusion of the laity in the government of the Church, and in the priesthood of all its members. In its various courts it sees the safeguard at once of its freedom and its discipline. But, looking at the whole question, the Scottish Church is quite prepared to say : If you show us a better system we are quite prepared to consider it. If a different form of Church government, which can claim equal authority, can be proved to suit the needs of the Church and the country, we are quite ready to examine it, and, if the nation so desires, to accept it. I do not think that for the sake of union merely, which may only be sentimental, the Scottish Church would, for a moment, dream of giving up or even modifying, to any serious extent, its long-cherished Presbyterianism. The only argument that could have weight would be the fact that, by so doing, the cause of Christ in the land would be better served.

It is interesting to turn away for a moment from what one conceives to be the mind of the Scottish Church on the subject, to the attitude that is taken up by the Anglican Church. That attitude, from the time of Laud to recent years, has been one which no self-respecting Presbyterian could for a moment contemplate with anything but a hostile spirit, for the position of the Anglican Church unchurched Presbyterianism. Its ministers were no ministers at all, nor were its people Church members. These views, of course, followed from the conception which it formed of what is calls the "Historic Episcopate." A Church which has not Bishops who can lay claim to apostolical succession, is no Church at all. It is not surprising that the Presbyterian Churches have hitherto refused to seriously negotiate for union with a Communion that held such views. They, in the opinion of many, could, with stronger reasons, set against the "Historic Episcopate" their own "Historic Presbyterate"; their form of Church government and orders go back to an earlier date, but their conception of the Church is a much more Catholic one, and they are quite prepared to comprehend within its communion all Christian bodies that have the "notes of a true kirk."

Recent events, however, we are told, have considerably modified this exclusive position of the Anglican Church. The condition of ecclesiastical life in the Colonies and in America is having a leavening influence on its views, and it was through pressure brought to bear upon it from these quarters that the Lambeth Conference framed its deliverance on the terms on which union might be possible with Presbyterian Churches. Doubt, however, may be entertained if these views have been substantially modified after all, and the contention of many that it is absorption rather than union which the sister Communion across the border aims at, is not without warrant. For example, the resolutions which the Conference came to " implicitly contain the assumption that the ' Historic Episcopate,' as that is understood by the Anglican Church, is an essential feature of the Church. That without the Episcopate there can be no true Church, and without episcopal ordination no true ministry." Now, if that be a deduction that can be legitimately drawn from these resolutions, it is difficult to see where any modification of the well-known views of the Anglican Church comes in. And that this deduction is far from being unwarranted may further be seen from the fact that a " period of transition" is contemplated in which, presumably, the ministers of the Presbyterian Church who did not accept re-ordination could exercise some of the functions of the ministry in an Episcopal Church, and the period of transition would only be passed, and the union fully accomplished, when the race of non-episcopally ordained ministers had died out.

It will thus be seen that the Anglican Church requires a considerable amount of leavening before the Scottish Church can meet with it, on equal terms, to discuss the question of union. When it is prepared to view the question of Church government with an open mind, and frankly to consider what system would be best for the Christian people of England, apart altogether from any Divine right theory, invented, as is well known, by one of its own Bishops for polemical purposes; when it is willing to place other Communions on the same Christian platform as its own, and to discuss the whole subject in a broad and liberal spirit, then, but not till then, will the time have arrived for joining together two of the great Protestant bodies which divide the English-speaking world.

As a token of such a spirit, let the English Church throw open its pulpits to the ministers of the Presbyterian Church; let it accept, without re-ordination, the fully qualified clergy of the Scottish Church; let the members of that Church be freely admitted to its Communion Table; let it be prepared to consider the advisability of giving the laity a share in its government, of establishing various Church courts, and of causing the Bishop to be subject to the discipline of the Church, and under its control like the rest of his brethren. Then, but not till then, will be the time to consider the precedents of 1610, or any other precedents, by which the Presbyterianism of Scotland and of the world can be transformed into Episcopacy.

Nor have we, in all these contentions, gone beyond the position which existed in Scotland during the first Episcopate of 1610-38, or the views and practice of the Aberdeen Doctors. These, in relation to the present subject, have been discussed by us at such length as to require no further expansion or elucidation. Dr. John Forbes and his colleagues were, in this matter, quite content to submit to the national will; they were ready to serve in a Presbyterian or Episcopal Church, as Episcopacy was understood and existed in their day in Scotland. It, in fact, was more Presbyterian than Episcopal. They preferred Episcopacy on the ground that they thought it a better system of Church government. And, considering the state of the Church in Scotland at the time, one need not be surprised at this. Bishop Patrick Forbes' biography is a record of the work which was demanded of all who had the interests of the Church at heart. That work practically consisted in re-establishing Christianity in many of the parishes of the country. There were numerous charges without pastors. The ministry was in a disorganised state, and there was grave danger of many districts falling into a condition of semi-heathenism. The ecclesiastical situation demanded a government which could best be carried out by Bishops, and Patrick Forbes himself was an illustrious example of how the work could be done. One accordingly can understand how, in vast countries like Australia and Canada, where the planting and organisation of churches require personal initiation and supervision, even Churches which are thoroughly Presbyterian in principle might, as a matter of expediency, be willing to accept a modified Episcopacy. This indeed has been distinctly admitted by the leader of the Presbyterian Church of Australia, and the Canadian Church, some years ago, in view of the great work that lay before it in the Far West, set apart one of its ministers with the functions of^ a Superintendent, to organise its forces, and to plant churches there. The union of Protestantism in these vast dominions is regarded by many to be essential if it is to hold its own against the Roman Catholic Church, and this applies to India as well. In these countries, where there are no endowments for religion, great difficulty is experienced in supporting the ministry in poor and sparsely populated districts, and it is felt that, if the resources of the Protestant Churches were united, headway could be made. The Roman Catholic system makes it equal to almost any situation, and, its strength not being impaired by division, it is seen establishing itself even in localities where the prevailing spirit is Protestant. It was probably similar reasons which induced Knox to originate the order of Superintendents in the Reformed Church of Scotland. He had the same difficulties to cope with, and he found that only by personal supervision could the principles of the new faith be conserved and established. He had to win Scotland from Roman Catholicism, and the well-known religious and ecclesiastical circumstances of the country, at the time, called for the special means which he adopted.

In all this, however, there is nothing similar to what is understood by Diocesan Episcopacy. No theory of the "Historic Episcopate" was set up by Knox, nor is it, for a moment, entertained by the Presbyterian Churches of Australia, Canada, or India. The truth is, between the conception of the Church and its ministry as held by Episcopalians and that favoured by Presbyterians, there is a great gulf fixed. The bureaucratic idea, with its accompanying sacerdotalism, which prevails in the Anglican Church, is utterly alien to the spirit of Presbyterianism. It is this which forms the great dividing line between the two. The Church of Scotland and the Church of England are at one in holding by national religion; not so much in theory as in fact. In creed they may not be so far apart; they differ in worship, but that difficulty might be overcome; but so long as their conception of the Church and its ministry is radically different, it would be idle to talk of an incorporated union. One must sympathise with those who aim at such a consummation, but it is not by reducing the outworks that such an end can be reached; the inward principles that move both Churches and colour their whole life must first of all be reconciled. In the time of the Aberdeen Doctors these principles were only beginning to declare themselves. During the early years of the Reformed religion inter-communion between the different Churches of Protestant Europe was common. The differences soon began to declare themselves which caused estrangement and division, and the hopeful sign of our times is that the leaders of thought in all the Churches are beginning to experience qualms of conscience as to whether the causes which separate them are real and vital, or only the expression, after all, of half-truths. Besides, large movements, outside the Churches and which they cannot control, are beginning to force their hands and to direct them into a fresh study of the root principles of the Christian Church itself. There must be a considerable searching of heart before the end for which many are earnestly labouring can be realised. If a union, such as has now been discussed, is to come, it will be by means of forces which do not in the meantime appear on the surface.

We have now to turn to another movement which is generally admitted to be much more hopeful, that is, the union between the Church of Scotland and the United Free Church. It would be quite beyond my purpose to go back upon ancient history or to refer to matters which have no bearing on the question, as it presents itself to serious-minded men, in our day. A knowledge of the history of both Churches is, of course, absolutely necessary for a right understanding of the subject, but the situation as it appears at the moment is what chiefly concerns us here. By resolutions of the Assemblies of the two Churches, come to at their meetings in May, 1909, committees were appointed to confer on the subject, and, so far as the conferences that will take place are concerned, the committees are unrestricted. They will have a free hand. The results of their labours, however, will only be presented in the form of reports which the two Churches may accept, modify, or reject, as they please.

It is of importance, however, to note the causes which have led up to this movement; to consider whether they are artificial or real, and to inquire into the force that may be in them or behind them. A number of arguments have been adduced which have become the commonplaces of those who are most forward in the matter. Scripture is referred to. Our Lord's prayer for unity is put in the forefront, but this prayer, it should be observed, is for unity and not for uniformity, and either, as is well known, can exist without the other. It is also maintained that the present ecclesiastical condition in Scotland is a scandal; two Churches, it is alleged, are in wasteful competition with each other, when they ought to be united and working hand in hand for the good of the country. Indeed, the strongest argument of all is this same good of the country. It is affirmed that if the two Churches, which are practically one in most things, would combine their forces, drunkenness would cease, immorality would vanish away, lapsing would be unheard of, the Churches would be full to overcrowding, irreligion would be banished from the land, and a new age would dawn.

Now, a little reflection should cause a man to hesitate in promulgating such views and raising such hopes. Without for a moment discounting the good that might follow from such a union, it requires only a very superficial knowledge of the history of the Christian Church to know how vain such hopes may be. The Church was one and united, not only in Scotland, but throughout Western Europe, immediately before the Reformation, and yet, at no time in its history, was it known to be so corrupt. It was practically one in England before the great Wesleyan Secession, and at no time since the Reformation was it held to be so dead. It was also one in Scotland before the Disruption, and at no period in its existence was it be-lived to be so cold and lifeless. The teaching of history does not favour the arguments of those who thus plead for union. Indeed, they are both positively and negatively at fault, for the undivided Churches of those days were also tyrannical and arrogant, and who knows but under similar conditions history might repeat itself? If we were told that a new spirit prevailed, that the Churches were possessed with a Divine afflatus, that power from on high did visit them, and that they were more or less unconscious instruments in a Higher Hand which was guiding them into union ; we would be prepared to bow before such a power and to accept its leading.

There are those, with a purer vision, who declare that such signs are visible ; we can only pray and hope that they see clearly ; but in the meantime it may not be amiss to point to one or two causes which have been influencing both Churches, and forcing them to consider the question of union. These causes have not been much referred to, but to a shrewd and worldly observer they will be more apparent than the deeper and more spiritual reasons on which union may ultimately depend.

There can be no doubt, for one thing, that the financial position of the United Free Church is full of anxiety and alarm. Ever since the union of the two bodies that compose it, there has been a marked and steady falling off in the contributions of its members towards the fund upon which the stipends of its ministers depend. Hardly a Presbytery meeting takes place without the alarm being sounded, and the discussion on the subject at last Assembly emphasised the seriousness of the situation. Should ministers not receive a living wage the Church is bound to suffer; and, at no distant date, unless matters improve very considerably, what prevails in America will find a parallel in this country; there will be churches with empty pulpits. Well, it is nothing to the discredit of the United Free Church if it is found looking towards a union with the Church of Scotland with its endowments as a solution of the difficulty. If the struggle to maintain ordinances in districts where one church would be sufficient is found impossible, why should the unnecessary church not be closed and its resources transferred to the one that remains? Everybody would say that such a policy shows not only a Christian spirit, but sound common-sense.

Nor is the Church of Scotland without its fears. It never knows when the swing of the pendulum will point to a disestablishment crusade. At any moment the political situation might play into the hands of those who are unfriendly to all Churches, and especially to national Churches. And even the Dissenters themselves as a counsel of despair might be tempted to join in the attack, and bring about the ruin of the Established Church. It is not therefore surprising, with such possibilities before it, that the Church of Scotland should make friends with its enemies before it is too late. In a policy of this kind a man of the world would see common-sense and a practical spirit which would approve itself to all sober-minded men. There may be nothing heroic in it. We do not say, for a moment, that it has even crossed the minds of the ecclesiastics, who are most forward in this movement, nor do we imagine that the action of the leaders of the United Free Church is seriously influenced by the financial condition around them. Still, these facts, which are visible to the ordinary observer, may form the subconsciousness of those who are guiding both Churches in this matter.

It is best, we think, to face the facts and to make no attempt to palm off any pious frauds upon ourselves or others. No good can come from a union which is not entered into with perfect honesty on both sides, and with a clear admission of the true reasons. But even such reasons as have now been given —both those which have been put forward by the leaders themselves, and those that appear cogent to the ordinary observer—are not sufficient grounds, even for so great an object, if the positions which either of the two contracting parties have fought for and still cherish are greatly affected or grossly violated. God Himself, we believe, does not act against a man's conscience, and we repudiate the idea that the conscience of Churches, any more than that of individuals, should be tampered with by unworthy considerations. Now what are the positions, or principles, as they are more frequently called, for which the two Churches contend ? These, we have it authoritatively stated on both sides, are two in number, National Religion and Spiritual Independence. After many years of warfare the two Churches have come at last to an agreement. Many of the principles, real or imaginary, about which there has been contention and strife, have vanished into air, thin air, and now, at last, the same platform is occupied, and the only point, but a very important one, that remains, is: whether there is an agreement as to the meaning which is attached to these two positions. Do they really lend themselves to different meanings, or, when they are rightly viewed, will it be found they can have only one significance? This is the question, it seems to me, upon which the result hangs, and it is to a brief discussion of it that I shall now devote myself.

In coming to a right understanding regarding questions of this kind, the best plan is to see how they evolve themselves in history. One should find out the facts or data that may afford guidance. It is useless to begin the discussion in the air, and reason about abstractions. This is a method, we confess, to which the theological mind is prone, and it is one that appeals very strongly to Scotsmen. It is this failing of the national temperament which is responsible for many of the ecclesiastical troubles of past times. A sacred meaning would seem to be attached to the word " principle." Whenever this term is mentioned, Scotsmen somehow refuse to reason about it. It is accepted, and there is an end to it. Now, principle is a very ambiguous term; it may mean a universal truth, but not infrequently it only stands for an individual opinion. In the present connection it is better not to attach too serious an importance to it. Let us, therefore, turn our minds away from National Religion as a theory or a principle, to National Religion as a fact.

What then do we find when we limit our view to this aspect of it ? We discover that the thing itself existed long before men began to reflect upon it or to devise any theories or form any principles regarding it. Take any of the national Churches of Christendom. Consider, more particularly, the one with which we are especially familiar, the Church of Scotland, and what do we find ? We see it from very small beginnings, in the sixth century, winning its way into the national life, and growing up unconsciously, as it were, and gradually forming a part of it. In the course of centuries it became strong, and was accepted by the nation as the expression of their religious beliefs, and established in their hearts and in the constitution of the country as the Church of the land. We cannot lay our hand on any particular act by which the country formally recognised it as the national Church; it simply grew, and became consolidated just as the other elements in the corporate life of the nation. Nor was the Church singular in this respect. The same thing took place with our civil constitution, and this is what is meant when we say that the constitution of the nation is an unwritten one. Other countries, like America, may have paper ones. That nation met through its representatives, and formally framed a Constitution and wrote it down on paper. This cannot be said of ours. We may have theories of the State, we may advocate principles with regard to it, but as a matter of fact it simply grew. One step after another was taken until what now exists was evolved.

Here, then, we have the two great aspects of the national life gradually growing up side by side. They are not the national life, but simply aspects of it. The nation is greater than, and behind, both Church and State, and they are simply expressions of it; the one in the civil, and the other in the religious sphere. As, then, it would be absurd to say that the nation at any particular moment selected out of a number of competing ones the special form of civil government which is our glory and our pride, it would be equally absurd to say that it singled out the Church of Scotland from a variety of ecclesiastical bodies that were bidding for its favour, and declared, "This is the one that we prefer." Nothing of the kind took place. The contention that the national Church was selected out of many, and that it unjustly received special privileges, is a fiction, about which the less that is now said the better. The Church was national, not because of any act at any past time on the part of the State, but because it was the nation in one of its aspects.

Even when we come to the Reformation and the Revolution Settlement, we do not find a new Church being set up, but the old one reformed. The Reformation itself was a long process. It did not take place in a moment, as some would think. Like every other change it came to a head, and that head was reached in Scotland when the nation expressed its approval of the reforms that were advocated by Knox and his friends. It never occurred to them that they were setting up a new Church. It is true that the changes which took place received parliamentary sanction, but that is a very different thing from any formal act on the part of the nation disestablishing the old Church and establishing the new. What resulted from the long, and even violent, process was the Church of Scotland, reformed. Indeed, it was at this time that the Church became truly national. The Reformation was an awakening of the different countries of Western Europe to self - consciousness. The Roman Catholic Church had imposed a type, uniform and in the main Italian, upon the different nations which ecclesiastically owned its government. The Church of Scotland, like the Church of England, was ruled from Rome ; but with the Reformation nationalities began to assert themselves, and one of the first things they did was to throw off the Roman yoke, and make their respective Churches the expression of their own particular religious temperament, so that if the Church of Scotland was national before the Reformation it was much so after it. It was then that it became the embodiment of the deepest beliefs of the whole people. Much the same thing took place at the Revolution Settlement. The type of Church government which the nation favoured had been violently shattered by the three Stuart kings. In 1690 that type was restored, and, as always happens, when what is lost and is much cherished is found again, a strong reaction takes place; so the national Church of Scotland under the Revolution Settlement became more confirmed than ever in its doctrine, government, and worship.

Now there has not in all this been a word said about the principle of National Religion. As a matter of history, that principle has evolved from the fact, and not the fact from the principle. We do not say that there is no such thing as the principle of National Religion, but we attach very little importance to it compared to the thing itself. There is very little heard about this principle in countries where there are no national Churches, and if there never had been a national Church in Scotland very little would be heard about it now. The Scottish nation did not begin by declaring, "Christ is Head of the nation as well as of the Church, we must therefore have a national Church in which this is embodied." The national Church first arose, and because of that we now speak of the principle.

It seems to me, then, that if the two Churches are agreed on the question of National Religion, the sense in which it has now been expounded is the only sense in which it can exist and be accepted. The Church is the nation in its religious aspect, just as the State is the nation in its civil aspect. The nation itself is behind both, and this is what is meant by the King being head of the English Church as well as the English State ; he represents the nation which is above both Church and State. This also is what is meant by the Lord High Commissioner being present at the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland. He does not represent the State: that is a huge blunder. He represents the King who represents the nation which is above them all.

It will be observed that we have not in this discussion used the expression the Established Church, and yet the late Mr. Freeman, when debating practically the same points as they are illustrated by the history and constitution of the Church of England, uses no other term. He never speaks of National Religion, either in theory or in fact, nor does he even use the phrase the national Church or the Church of England; it is always and invariably the Established Church. The meaning of this is plain. To the mind of Mr. Freeman the terms are practically synonymous, because they all are but different expressions for the same thing. It never entered into his mind that there could be National Religion without an Established Church, for the thing had never existed. Principal Tulloch heldt he same views, for while he admits that it is possible to conceive of National Religion as a principle or a theory, he never knew of its existence independent of an Established Church. If, then, the Church of Scotland goes into this conference with the question of Establishment as an open question, it must also go into it with the question of National Religion as an open question; and again, if the United Free Church goes into the conference holding by National Religion it must also go into it holding by the Established Church. The two things are inseparable, and what God has joined together man should not put asunder.

It is from this point of view that a sound criticism may be passed on Professor Flint's declaration that there is no principle of Establishment. In two lectures delivered by him in 1882 on the "Duties of the People of Scotland to the Church of Scotland," he adduced very strong reasons for the continued existence of the Established Church, and expressed his belief that the only course for the other Presbyterian Churches in the land, in view of their past history and accepted principles, was to seek to join it. They might wish to have certain modifications made on the relations that existed between the two aspects of the national life, the ecclesiastical and the civil, but there was no good ground why they should seek its overthrow. His lectures are a strong plea for peace and union with the Established Church. But at the very close of his last lecture he would seem to contradict much of what he had previously said, by declaring that, while there was a principle of National Religion there was no principle of Establishment. That Establishment was simply the application of a principle. A pronouncement of this kind, coming from a man like Professor Flint, had a disconcerting effect; it staggered good churchmen, and it was eagerly laid hold of by Dissenters. Respect for Professor Flint's name may have kept any one from controverting his views. It may be a bold thing to do so now, and even an ungracious thing, especially by one who, like the present writer, has the profoundest reverence for his character, his ability, and his work. But a casual perusal of Dr. Flint's lectures shows that he did not discuss the question in its historical aspects. He treated it chiefly on the ground of principle, and from his point of view the conclusion which he came to may be legitimate. Mr. Freeman, on the other hand, treats the matter as a student of history, and it is only in this form that the subject can be properly handled. If, according to Professor Flint's conception, the principle of National Religion had first of all taken shape in the mind of the country, and if after serious consideration and deliberation a choice had been made from a number of competing Churches, of a particular one, and the nation then declared, "We shall make this the national Church, but we must in the first instance determine the conditions on which we shall establish it"; it might then be said that Establishment was no principle, but simply the application of one. But this never happened, and it never can happen in Scotland until the Established Church is formally disestablished by the nation, and the nation makes choice of a new Church for the purpose of establishing it as the national Church of the land. Unless some of the leaders of the Church of Scotland be restrained the first thing may happen, but the second thing would not likely take place until the Greek Kalends. It accordingly follows that in looking at the question as an historical fact, the only way in which it can be regarded, Establishment is as much a principle as National Religion. To separate the two may be possible in thought, but impossible in reality.

I come now to the second of the two terms of union on which the Churches, we are told, are agreed, that of Spiritual Independence. Here, again, there has been much speaking and writing, of an abstract and theoretical kind. The subject has been elevated to the rank of a principle, and there are those who would seem ready to sacrifice everything for what has never existed in this commonplace world of ours, and for what, so far as the present conditions of human life remain, can never be realised. This, of course, we say with regard to the principle of Absolute Spiritual Independence. The thing itself, however, so far as it is practicable, has existed and still exists. The substance, after all, is the main thing, and it may be worth our while to consider in what it consists.

Let me once more adopt the historical method, the only one that can be relied on in a discussion of this kind. The Church of Scotland declares that it possesses Spiritual Independence. If so, it is of importance to discover its nature. Only in this way can the subject be properly understood. The Church of Scotland, we have seen, gradually grew up side by side with the State. They formed the two main aspects of the national life. There was, to begin with, no definite relations between them, but as time went on their mutual spheres had to be defined and their relations formally stated. For many centuries this process has been going on, and there is no reason to imagine that it has come to an end. As the national life develops, new conditions may spring up, which will demand a fresh rearrangement, and we are told that this is what is taking place at the present moment. But, for many centuries past, their mutual spheres have been defined, and while united as parts of the national life, each has its own particular functions and independence duly recognised; and, within their own spheres, each acts without interference on the part of the other. To the State naturally belongs the control over what is material. It has jurisdiction over all property, and the tenure on which property is held. To the Church pertains control over all that is spiritual; its independence is recognised, and the jurisdiction of its courts is as free, and their decisions as valid and final, as those of the State. No interference with its freedom, according to the present relations between it and the civil authority, is possible. The Church thus has co-ordinate jurisdiction with the State, and so possesses Spiritual Independence. If it desires to make any alteration in its relation to the State, or to change the condition on which its jurisdiction depends, it must appeal to the nation through Parliament to receive sanction. This is what happened when power was given to it in 1905 to frame a new Formula of Subscription to the Confession of Faith. In asking for this sanction the Church did not feel that it was in bondage, but simply showed respect to the conditions on which it is made secure in its privileges, its independence, its property, and its rights.

Now is this the sense in which the United Free Church regards what it terms the principle of Spiritual Independence? The Church of Scotland maintains that it possesses it as a fact. Does the United Free Church admit this, or is there a different kind of Spiritual Independence with which it alone will be satisfied? Unless its views have considerably altered within recent years, I fear that it does not see eye to eye with the Church of Scotland on this question. Still, if one can read the signs of the times, the leaders of this Church would seem to be coming round to the Church of Scotland's position. Recent well-known events, and the logic of facts, are proving too much for them, and, like sensible men, they are perceiving that the only Spiritual Freedom possible is the one which the Church of Scotland has for many generations enjoyed. It is absolutely useless at this time of day, with the great practical question of union facing the two Churches, to begin discussing abstract principles. The question which should be answered is, What does history teach? How do the facts stand? What really is possible under the circumstances? It has taken the Scottish nation hundreds of years to thrash out the subject in a practical way. We have the facts before us, and are these facts to be ignored? Is the teaching of centuries to be thrown aside for some vague principle which has never been realised, and never can?

According to the theory of Spiritual Independence which the Free Churches in Scotland used to favour, the State is a secular institution, and therefore for a Church to recognise its relations to it would be sinful.

Who holds that opinion now ? The Scottish nation is a Christian nation. It has given its expression to its religious beliefs through the Established Church. The State is only another aspect of the national life, and if it is purely secular, then the Church must be secular too and so must the nation itself. There is no escape from this conclusion if this theory of the State be maintained. But no Presbyterian in Scotland holds it. Christ came, and the central idea of His teaching was not the Church, but a Kingdom ; and any kingdom that accepts Him as its Head is as holy in its civil actions as in its ecclesiastical. There can thus be no dividing of the world into two—no creating a dualism which is as false as it is pernicious ; and the Church of Scotland feels that it is as much justified in defining its relations to the State as it is in discussing terms of union with the United Free Church. It regards the one as sacred as the other. To suppose that "Christ should have the homage of the United Free Church Assembly, but ought not to receive that of the Parliament of Great Britain; to conceive of Him only as a Moderator of Ecclesiastical Courts, and not as Lord of lords and King of kings, is an inadequate and dishonouring view of His position in the universe."  Is a Scottish Presbyterian under the lordship of Christ only when he is engaged in his private devotions or worshipping in church ? Is he not under the lordship of Christ when discharging his secular duties and taking part as a citizen in the civil and political affairs of the nation ? To believe otherwise would be to transform him into a veritable Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.

The country has witnessed a striking illustration, lately, of what may happen to a Church which refuses to recognise its relations to the State, and by mutual arrangement to safeguard its property and its interests. It had to be taught the painful lesson that Spiritual Freedom on such terms is impossible. Nor need the United Free Church think that the Act of Parliament which bestowed upon it its share of the property of the old Free Church has given it liberty to deal with its constitution as a scratch majority may at any time determine. It is exactly now in the same position as it was before that Act was passed ; and if it wants to be secured in its property, it can only be by an arrangement with the State such as the Church of Scotland has so long enjoyed. I do not for a moment see why it should not do this. It would then possess Spiritual Independence in the only way in which it can be realised; and thus the two

Churches would come to an agreement, for they would both possess what hitherto belonged to one of them, and all false views would vanish through the realisation of the thing itself. "The Church of Scotland," says Dr. Flint, " in virtue of being the Established Church, has more spiritual independence than any other Church in Scotland. The Free Church, for example, is under the control of the civil courts of this country, both as regards doctrine and discipline. Any person who deems that he has been unconstitutionally dealt with by the Free Church can bring either her creed or her procedure under the review and control of the civil magistrate. From this subjection there is no possible escape. A hundred successive disruptions, although they might allow of a hundred changes of her constitution, would not take her a step nearer towards freedom. She can only find deliverance from what she has often called Erastian dependence on the civil courts, by having jurisdiction, within proper limits, duly secured to her own courts by statute law. So long as she does not attain this, she lies, although it may be unwittingly, in ' the house of Erastian bondage.' Ought she to be content to remain there ? I think not ? I think she should wish to breathe the larger and freer ether into which she can rise only through establishment on proper conditions. Establishment, instead of necessarily involving what is called Erastianism, is the only way to sure immunity from it."  These words were spoken in 1882, long before the Union between the Free and United Presbyterian Churches was seriously thought of. The prophecy contained in them was fulfilled to the very letter; and I have no doubt that, should similar circumstances arise, it would be again fulfilled.

In what has now been said no reference has been made to a number of questions which used to bulk largely in any discussion that arose on Church questions in Scotland. I have confined myself entirely to the points of agreement, and the question which the conferring Churches have to decide is, whether the fact of National Religion and the fact of Spiritual Independence are to form the basis of union, or doctrinaire views on these two facts. I do not pretend to have reconciled the views with the facts, and the result of the labours of the joint committee on this somewhat difficult problem will be watched with interest.

What guidance can we get from the Aberdeen Doctors on the questions now discussed? I am afraid that we shall appeal to them in vain, for they never had to face the problem in the form in which it now presents itself. They never dreamed of a National Church that was not also established, nor of Spiritual Independence apart from the Established Church. If their teaching on these topics is to be accepted, the position of the Church of Scotland, as it now exists, would have to be maintained. But there is one gleam of light. The question of Spiritual Independence did interest them and their contemporaries. The relation between Church and State was subjected to a violent process in their day, but the process took place within and not outside the Establishment. Here then is a platform on which the two Churches may confer if not unite. The relations between the Established Church and the State may not, as yet, have reached finality; indeed, no one in the Church of Scotland pretends that they have. Let the United Free Church, accordingly, come with suggestions, and the Church of Scotland is bound to consider them. Indeed, if the Free Church section of the United Church be true to its own history and its Claim of Right, this is what it is bound to do.

Of course there are those who hold that two strong, healthy Churches, working side by side ip a friendly spirit, would render better service to the country than one Church, and those who think thus, it must be admitted, have history on their side. The present desire for union may have much in it that is purely sentimental, and the good results of such a union, should it be accomplished, may be largely imaginary. It is not the divisions of the Churches after all, but their quarrels, that cause scandal; and it is at this point that the teaching and practice of the Aberdeen Doctors come in with redoubled force. Let the Churches of our day breathe the broad spirit of charity which animated Dr. John Forbes and his friends; let them live in brotherly amity and hold fellowship with each other; let them look outside their own narrow limits to the larger Church of Christ that lies beyond; let them, in short, remember that it was a Divine Kingdom which Jesus came to found, and then their differences will sink into insignificance, and they will strive, not against, but with each other, in establishing that Kingdom throughout all the world.


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